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Two senior Burmese government officials have delivered aid to a remote Rohingya Muslim village, and guaranteed residents’ safety, after they were cut off and threatened by hostile Arakanese Buddhist neighbours, one of the officials said.
Last week, Reuters exclusively reported on the dire situation faced by thousands of Rohingya Muslims trapped in the villages of Ah Nauk Pyin and Nyaung Pin Gyi in the western state of Arakan.
They had begged authorities for safe passage out of the area after getting death threats from Buddhists.
Fragile relations between the Rohingya villagers and their ethnic Arakanese Buddhist neighbours were shattered on 25 August, when deadly attacks by Rohingya militants prompted a ferocious response from Burma’s security forces.
Nearly 500 people have been killed and more than half a million Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape what the United Nations has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The state’s chief minister, Nyi Pu, and Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye, who is leading the government’s response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Arakan, made the surprise trip to Ah Nauk Pyin on Wednesday.
On Friday, Win Myat Aye said he first learned about the situation in the villages from international news reports.
“I don’t know how Ah Nauk Pyin village got into the international media,” Win Myat Aye told Reuters.
Aid workers in Arakan said the Reuters report alerted diplomats to the situation faced by the villagers and prompted them to raise concerns with the government.
The two Rohingya villages are in the south of Rathedaung Township, far away from the border with Bangladesh.
They are surrounded by either water or Buddhist villages and were among five remaining settlements in the region, after 16 other villages were burnt down.
Asked about the threats the villagers faced from Arakanese neighbours, Win Myat Aye said: “I told them they shouldn’t worry about that. If they are intimidated, we’ll take action according to the law. We will stop that intimidation.”
The ministers, who flew in on a helicopter, delivered packs of biscuits, tins of fish and bags of fish paste.
They promised rice and other supplies would arrive within a week, residents said.
“We don’t have enough food or proper health care and we can’t go anywhere,” Maung Maung, chief of the village of Ah Nauk Pyin, told Reuters by telephone.
“We’re threatened by Rakhine [Arakanese] neighbours.”
Maung Maung said the ministers discussed the situation in the village for 25 minutes.
Win Myat Aye said aid donated by Indonesia would be used to support the village, as well as Buddhist and other Muslim communities suffering from the conflict.
“They told us about their needs. The government will support their basic needs,” he said.
Residents from the other Rohingya village, Nyaung Pin Gyi, said they had not been visited and had not got any aid.
About a million Rohingya lived in Arakan State until the recent violence. Most face travel restrictions and are denied citizenship in a country where many Buddhists regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.